TECHNIQUES | Gradients
  • tool: markers

We all know why markers are considered to be excellent tools for colouring, but what the marker really excels at is its ability in colour blending… when done right of course. I consider the gradient technique to be more for advanced marker users, because the success of the gradient working requires a certain level of being familiar with marker colours. Otherwise it can be a very hit-or-miss-approach. Not all colours blend seemingly well and experimenting with them is key. Always test your gradient on a scrap piece of paper before you apply it on your work. Better be safe than sorry.

Gradients come in all sorts of colour combinations, but I picked three distinctive types.

Light-Dark Gradient

The light-dark gradient is the simplest one in this tutorial and it can be achieved with only a little amount of markers. In order to achieve this kind of gradient it is best to stay within one colour family and to select colours, which are distinctly apart from each other, yet  not too far (the colours are still supposed to blend).

Usually a better result is achieved when waiting for each layer to be dry before the next one is put on top. Start with the lightest colour, after it has dried take the next darker one and apply it with feathered strokes of the brush nib. Then repeat this step with the darkest colour.

A tutorial on how to create colour gradients with markers.

It is of course possible to have gradient, which has a broader spectrum, but you need more colours for it to work. Chances are you might run into difficulties regarding the tonal change in colours; just like ‘blue’ isn’t ‘blue’. Take a look at the colours at your disposal and make them work for you.

Tonal Change Gradient

Next in line is the tonal change gradient and where the fun starts. These gradients can be as vibrant or desaturated as you want, but the principle doesn’t change. It works well when choosing colours along the colour wheel (decide on a direction) while staying with a certain ‘brightness’ of the colours overall. Changing from a saturated to a desaturated colour and vice versa can result in a blotchy looking outcome.

Start with the lightest colour and work your way through to the ‘last’ colour. The more colours are used, it is crucial to know how much colour the paper can absorb. If in doubt, colour only a small portion with each colour and leave some room for the colours to overlap and blend. Again, this works best after the previous layer has dried.

A tutorial on how to create colour gradients with markers.
Colour Shift Gradient

This type of gradient can be a fickle one and is really dependant on the colour choices. Nevertheless, the colour shift gradient can allow for an endless variety of colour combinations. In my opinion this one is the hardest to pull off.

It is important to find colours, which match in terms of tonal value, saturation and brightness/darkness, and then to create a chain of these ‘colour pairs’. The more colours you want to use, the more difficult it gets. The more apart these colours are in terms of their colour family, the more awkward it can be to find a ‘blending partner’.

The examples below show two possible varieties of colour shift gradients. The first one is a shift from a blueish purple to a reddish one. In principle is this a combination of two light and dark gradients meshed together with the focus on the soft blending of the lightest colours on the base layer.

A tutorial on how to create colour gradients with markers.

The next gradient is a shift in colour from green to magenta, which combines more opposing colours, as seen on the colour wheel. When choosing colours for this type of gradient, it can be easier when the chosen colours are either leaning towards the warm or cool. The rest is down to personal preference and how complicated the gradient should be.

A tutorial on how to create colour gradients with markers.

I hope gradients did loose some of their scariness and I wish you a happy experimenting with your marker colours. Until next time!

© Aileen Strauch, first published on the Letraset art blog in 2014